Prism Circus — The Combat System

Jeffrey McGee
4 min readFeb 24, 2023

So many mechanics… but where to start?

Hey there! So… last time I talked about a grandiose idea I have that I call Prism Circus. The thing is there’s just so much to say about it that I couldn’t have described everything in a single article. Truth is, I don’t know where the best place to start is, but I got a hunch that I should talk about the unique combat system of this dream first. I thought it would be a good idea to complete a description or two about this thing before moving on to the next subject. Is it the right call? I haven’t done this yet so… I don’t know.

Anyways, it’s something like this…

From dices to sky-high explosions

Being an idea that has been floating in my head for 16 years or so, it’s only natural that the combat system of Prism Circus would be somewhat archaic compared to today’s video games. Specifically, the combat system takes inspiration from the classic ATB battle systems that the Final Fantasy franchise has popularized during the 90s and early 2000s. In that regard, Prism Circus also relies on random encounters to engage battles. However, unlike the classical scenario, where random encounters transport you to a dedicated area where the combat takes place separated from the game’s world-roaming mode, random encounters in Prism Circus take place on the existing map. To be specific, you’re wandering around the world and there’s no enemy in sight, and then a random encounter happens where a bunch of enemies suddenly appear and start combating the player on the same map they’re roaming on. In that sense, it’s kind of like a mix between the classic ATB systems and the modern combat system that define the contemporary Final Fantasy games.

During combat, the player is prompted with several options and can control up to 3 characters against up to 4 enemies at once. From the several options they’re presented with, the player can queue any commands to be performed in order. There’s a slight interval between each command that defines each attack as an individual action.

The most basic action is “attack”, and what’s special about it is that its strength is represented by the roll of 2 dice. There are 36 different possible results, where the higher the number the stronger the attack. Similar to backgammon, getting a double (i.e., matching results on both dice) yields a special attack that damages all present enemies. When the characters become stronger later in the game, special attributes can be assigned to certain rolls that yield beneficial effects, such as always dealing a critical strike if the resulting number is 11, or cursing the enemy if the first dice lands on 4 (and basically anything else you can think of).

Prism Circus doesn’t utilize a regular magic system, at least not similar to the one in Final Fantasy. In Prism Circus, instead of casting arbitrary spells like “fire” or “thunder” or anything else basic like that, the characters can imbue their attacks with magical effects, so that magic is infused into the characters’ attacks. There are 10 elements, divided into 2 groups. The first group comprises the basic elements: fire, earth, wind, water, and lightning. The second group comprises the supreme elements: cataclysm, mineralia, bladestorm, cloudfall, and sen-creature (I know the names sound weird but there’s a ton of lore to this game). More so, the various elements can be fused into hybrid elements, allowing for a huge variety. Each element is affected by an environmental factor that alters the quality of its result, those factors being temperature, hardness of earth, wind direction, and weather. There are also special interactions, such as water attacks becoming ice attacks below a certain temperature. In addition, each character has their own specialties, elements they deal high damage with, and weaknesses, elements the character is weak against.

The other basic option is “items”, which presents the player with all of the collected items that they can use in combat, and there are quite many to collect.

Each of the 200 playable characters has 2 to 4 unique abilities that set them apart from the rest of the cast. More so, upon reaching a certain level, the character unlocks the “Skybreaker Move”, the strongest move any character can possibly achieve. And when they reach the final level of 25, each character unlocks a special feature, that’s entirely unique to them, that enhances their probability-based combat.

Prism Circus is designed in such a way so that the grinding is reduced to a minimum. That’s achieved by defining two types of levels, namely the Character Level (CL) and the Legion Level (LL). Every character has a limit of 25 CL, which increases their individual strength. Reaching level 25 CL is relatively easy and upon doing so, the LL increases by 1 per character, which eventually rounds up to a total of 200 LL. This way, the player levels up based on character discovery, rather than on killing the same monster a bajillion times with no end. Although I don’t know how this system would work in practice, I’d like to believe that it’d replace grinding… cuz I hate grinding.

Anyways, I might have left out a tidbit or two without noticing, but this is more or less how the combat in Prism Circus works. But more importantly, if there’s anything that was misunderstood, I’d be happy to answer any questions that come around. Until then, I need to contemplate the next article.